The document released by the Georgian Foreign Ministry on August 21 was drawn up by British, Estonian and Polish specialists. It is mainly in line with a report by the first International Group of Experts (IGE), but it also complements the previous one with additional information. The report also provides some details, which challenge claims put forth by the Russian investigatory group on August 17.
“The aircraft came from and returned to Russian airspace. The missile was of Russian manufacture. Within the region Russia is the only feasible nation capable of using the weapon correctly,” the report reads. The group consisted of Brigadier Gen. and former Su-24 pilot Vello Loemaa and radar expert Märt Magi from Estonia; Su-22 pilot, Maj. Andrzej Witak and weapon engineer, Capt. Przemysław Pulka from Poland and a missile systems expert from the UK Ministry of Defense, Kim Baker. It was initially announced that French experts were to join the group, but this failed to materialise.
Air Radar Records
The group’s report says that the radar tracks from both the Georgian civil and military radars indicate at least one, maybe two, aircraft were involved in the incident. It, however, also says that a single aircraft was seen by eyewitnesses. Georgia’s airspace was violated three times on August 6, according to the report.
The aircraft involved, the report says, were tracked by Georgian civil air traffic control primary radar and also by Georgian military primary radar.
The Georgian radar records confirm that the aircraft did not have its on-board transponder activated, the report claims. “This means that the secondary radars were unable to detect and therefore track the aircraft.”
The Russian side, which has claimed no involvement in the incident, however, provided its own air picture which only comprised secondary radar information.
“Thus the information supplied by the Russians cannot support their claim [of non-involvement],” the report reads. “The Group felt that more information about the incident could be determined if Russia supplied the military (primary) radar tracks in addition to the secondary tracks already received.”
It would be useful, the report said, to get the radar tracks from neighboring countries to add to the Georgian and Russian information.
The group has concluded that the missile used in the incident was an indigenous variant (labelled Kh-58U) of the Kh-58 (NATO name AS-11, KILTER) air-to-surface, anti-radar missile, manufactured in the Russian Federation in October 1992. “This variant of the missile is not offered for export,” the report said.
The report has ruled out earlier speculation that the missile could have been jettisoned and not fired by the aircraft.
“The motor was fully burnt indicating that the missile was fired or launched. If the missile was jettisoned (released from the aircraft in an emergency situation) the motor would not have fired,” it said.
There had been claims that the aircraft jettisoned the missile to outmaneuver a rocket fired from a hand-held portable air defense system (MANPAD) from the ground, allegedly by South Ossetian militias.
“The Group examined the performance of the typical MANPADs and from the likely firing position along with the aircraft speed and altitude considered it highly unlikely that the MANPAD would hit the aircraft,” the report said, however, it did not claim that the MANPAD was not at all fired.
The document also said that assistance from the Russian manufacturer of the missile would be helpful “to fully answer all the questions.”
As part of the probe the group also visited the Georgian air base in Marneuli and inspected all ten Su-25 aircraft in the Georgian Air Force inventory (Georgia has no SU-24 aircraft).
“The Group’s aircrew experts confirmed that these aircraft are not equipped to carry or operate Kh-58 missiles,” the report said. The weapons storage facilities at the airbase were also checked and no evidence of a Kh-58 missile was found, it added.
The report suggests that Georgia’s 36D6-M air defense radar (NATO name Tin Shield) could have been the target of the attack.
The missile, fired by the aircraft, impacted at the village of Tsitelubani, about 5 km short of the Georgian radar site.
On the third incursion (there were a total of three incursions by the aircraft), according to the report, the aircraft turned towards the radar and the latter tracked the aircraft all the way until the missile launch. The radar stopped transmitting as soon as one of the radar crew members saw the missile launch, the report said. Radar shut down is a standard procedure when under a missile attack.
Because of the radar shut down, the report has concluded, the missile was denied a valid radar target to home onto.
“At this point the aircraft was estimated to be about 10 km from the radar,” the report reads. “The Kh-58 had to use the previously estimated position of the radar site derived from the aircraft sensors. It is likely that due to the short range, the missile flew a direct approach to where it believed the radar site was.”
“A miss of 3-5 km is not unusual in these circumstances because of the old estimation of the target position and no opportunity for the seeker to refine that position,” it has concluded.
The report, however, also says the group “does not claim that the radar was deliberately attacked.” “The reason why the missile missed the target and the self destruct failed is uncertain at this time but probably related to the lack of radar transmissions when the missile was launched and the short range.”
Type of Aircraft
The previous group, made up of experts from Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and the United States, said it was unable to identify the type of aircraft involved. Georgia has claimed it was an SU-24.
The second group of experts has also failed to give any clear explanation. It, however, cites the testimony of an eyewitness – a Georgian radar crew member – suggesting it was an SU-24.
“The crew member was interviewed by the Group and shown pictures of aircraft for him to identify the most likely aircraft. It was clear that the crew member did not possess any aircraft knowledge. He thought the Su-24 was the closest match to the aircraft he saw, discounting pictures of the Su-25, MiG-25 and MiG-27,” the report reads.